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Can your employer fire you for taking medical leave?

California is an employment at will state. This means that, in most cases, both you or your employer can end your employment any time either of you wishes to, with or without cause.

Per the National Federation of Independent Business, however, if your employer fires you because you took a medical leave, or while you are on one, you may have an action for workplace discrimination.

Federal protections

Several federal statutes protect you against termination for medical reasons, including the following:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FLMA)
  • Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The ADA requires employers that have 15 or more employees to make reasonable accommodations for their disabled workers. A short unpaid leave could qualify as a reasonable accommodation.

The FMLA requires employers that have 50 or more employees to protect the job of any employee going on unpaid leave who worked a minimum of 1,250 hours during the preceding year. These leaves can be because the employee needs to resolve his or her own medical issue, because he or she needs to care for an ill child, spouse, parent, etc., or because he or she is a new parent who needs to bond with his or her child.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, requires employers that have 15 or more employees to make reasonable accommodations for their pregnant workers which may, in some circumstances, mean allowing them to take medical leave due to the pregnancy.

California protections

California law extends ADA protections to employers with only six or more employees. It likewise extends Pregnancy Discrimination Act protections to employers with only 5 or more employees. In addition, California has its own Pregnancy Disability Leave Act that applies to employers with as few as five employees.

Under the California Family Rights Act, FMLA rights apply to companies with as few as 20 employees. Yet another California law requires your employer to let you use your accumulated paid sick days to take a medical leave for yourself or your child.

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